We are in a pinion- juniper environment most of the time here in western New Mexico – and usually more juniper than pinion.
We figured it was a great opportunity to study and learn more about this beautiful tree.
Juniper takes many forms, from a low-growing shrub to a 30 to 40-foot tree. The junipers we encountered at Gold Gulch Road area were the tree kind, and almost exclusively the Alligator Juniper (Juniperus deppeana) variety.
Identification was fairly easy. The bark is very distinctive, it has multiple seeds in its large berry-like cone, and male and female attributes are on different trees.
The junipers here at Cosmic Campground, north of Alma, are almost exclusively “One-Seed” junipers (Juniperus monosperma). Their bark is grey-brown and shaggy, peeling in thin strips. The berries are small and only contain one seed. Like the Alligator Juniper, male and female attributes are on separate trees.
Juniper has a long history of medicinal culinary and functional use, and was used by many cultures. Be warned, however, that it is a strong medicine, and irritating to the kidneys. It can be toxic if misused and should never be consumed if pregnant or nursing or if you take diabetic medications to lower blood sugar.
We rely on the book: “Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West” by Michael Moore.
Another great resource is the Native American Ethnobotany Database site
There you can search by plant name and receive extensive information on how each plant was used by myriad Native American cultures.
The most commonly used juniper is Common Juniper (Juniperus communis). It is especially prized for its culinary use, but was also used medicinally in times past to treat urinary tract problems such as cystitis. It has antiseptic and diuretic properties.
As with any plant harvested in the wild, identification is key, especially if you plan to consume the plant. When we are in the southwest part of the country we have found these sources to be quite detailed and helpful for identification:
Vascular Plants of the Gila Wilderness:
USDA Plants Database:
There are many other good online resources, but we tend to give organizations such as universities, government websites and the like more weight as trusted sources for information.